Sainik (Military) School Amaravathinagar in Tamil Nadu state of India, where I did my schooling from grade 5 to grade 11, was established in 1962 as feeder institutes for the National Defence Academy(NDA). There were about a dozen more such schools, one in each state, established at the same time. The aim was to attract youth from all the states of India and from all the classes of the society. The idea was mooted by Mr VK Krishna Menon, then Defence Minister of India. Sainik schools were meant to be the ordinary citizen’s public school where deserving students can get high quality education irrespective of their income or class background. These schools did achieve this aim – General Suhag, the present Army Chief is a Sainik School product.
Amaravathinagar was chosen as the site for our school as the area was on the foothills of the Western Ghats and adjacent to the Amaravathi Dam. The weather of area suited the school and the terrain provided ideal backdrop for various adventure activities. The dam ensured a constant supply of water and also a site for water sports like canoeing.
Another reason for choosing Amaravathinagar as the site was that there were many sheds, buildings, staff quarters left vacant on completion of the dam. One of the workshop buildings became the Cadet Mess, one a gymnasium. The administrative area of the dam construction became the administrative offices and the rest became class rooms. Some staff quarters, closer to the class rooms were turned into Cadets’ living and the rest became staff quarters.
Over the years, a new well equipped Cadet Mess, Academic Block, Cadet Dormitories, swimming pool and many other buildings were added. Today the schools stands out as one of best in India – both for quality of infrastructure and educational value.
When theses schools started in 1962, the teachers were paid a notch better than the UGC scale and over the years it hardly ever increased, making teaching in Sainik Schools less attractive. To compound the problem, all teachers join as teachers and retire as a teacher without any promotion in either status or appointment.
When we joined the school in 1971, the teachers were all-rounders; good at academics, sports and organising hobbies and clubs, extracurricular activities and adventure activities. We were taught sciences by Mr Venkiteswaran (Venky) in Grade 5 and Mr Raghavan in Grade 6. Mr Raghavan was better known as Mr Jiggs for his style and actions. Mr Venky taught zoology and Mr Jiggs botany and both were excellent teachers and also were very good at cricket and tennis. Mr Venky played in all sports teams of the school and was an excellent mentor cum coach for students. His afternoons began with playing French-Cricket with grade 5 students and later played football, basketball and hockey with senior students. His day ended with a round of tennis at the tennis court, mostly playing with Colonel Thamburaj, our Principal and Mr Raghavan.
As the remuneration of the teachers did not keep pace with the inflation, by 1973 many teachers of very high caliber left our school for greener pastures at various Public schools in Ooty and Kodaikanal as they offered better remuneration. That was when we bid goodbye to Mr Venky and Mr Raghavan. The only girl in our class was Sita, daughter of Mr Seshadiri, the English teacher. As Mr Seshadiri too left for similar reasons, our batch became all male.
Mr Paul Sathya Kumar and Mr AD George replaced Mr Venky and Mr Raghavan. They too had similar traits as they were not only outstanding teachers, but also great sportsmen. Mr Paul coached the school cricket team and Mr George the football team. Mr Paul was also an excellent musician who could play most instruments. He would accompany the school choir on his organ during the morning assembly and was an integral part of all plays and cultural activities the students staged.
Similarly, the exodus of teachers of 1973 affected most departments and there were many new teachers, majority of them as good or even a notch better than whom they replaced. The noteworthy exceptions were Mrs & Mr Cherian and Mr KG Warrier, for whom the call of the money would not have been all that important for obvious reasons.
The next exodus of teachers took place in 1985 after we left school. The Navodaya Schools were established in 1985 in every district of India to provide residential school level education for the common man. Most of the teachers, Mr Paul and Mr George included, moved out as principals to these schools – obviously for better pay and status. Further, the scheme being funded entirely by the centre (and states as in case of Sainik schools), most of these Navodaya schools got established with better infrastructure. Another advantage was that the children studying in their own district in most cases and the girls also get equal opportunity unlike the Sainik Schools.
Has the Sainik Schools achieved their goals? An often asked question. These schools are now deteriorating for sure, mainly because of lack of funds. The way out is for the Defence Ministry at the centre to take over these schools in entirety from selection of staff and students to providing scholarships as being done in case of the Navodaya Schools.
Another important issue that need to be addressed is of the Defence Officers posted to these schools as Principals, Headmasters and Registrars. The Army Education Corps (Navy and Air Force too) officers are normally posted and most are incapable of motivating the cadets – in any way – forget about joining the Army. Any of our batch mates from Sainik Schools will vouch for it. Today most regular officers are better qualified academically than these (un) Educated Officers and would any day be better academicians, organisers, leaders and motivators.
In case the army wishes to resuscitate these Sainik Schools, the way out is for the center government to finance the scholarships as in Navodaya Vidyalaya and also remove the Education Corps officers from the system.